Ahead of his supporting slot with Leeds legends The Sunshine Underground, I have a leisurely long chat with multi talented Cosmo Jarvis.
Cosmo, hi! Right, so, on tour with The Sunshine Underground at the moment, which must be a really good opportunity to share your music with a larger and more knowledgeable audience. With that in mind, how's the tour been going so far and what sort of a reception have been getting?
Yeah I've been told that the reception has been pretty good. There's a lot of slightly older people out there that really like their music like you said. It's good because you want to try and match them... I think I've tried to pick songs that are 'up' to try and match their big sound. And they're really nice people as well.
Excellent. So moving on to the first album now [Hum as You Hitch / Son Of A Bitch], there's quite an obvious binary separation with the album between the more light hearted numbers on the first disk, 'Hum As You Hitch', and some distinctly more sobering social commentary on the flip side of that, 'Son of a Bitch': is there always a conscious duality to your song writing process or is there more of an organic intermingling than is first apparent?
Well that happened because I just needed to get a load of songs onto an album. I've sort of grown up with those songs, a lot of them have been with me since I was thirteen / fourteen, and so I didn't want to just waste them. And then there was some new stuff that I think was maybe a bit more credible, so I wanted to get that out somewhere as well. It was just the case that there was too much stuff to put on one disk so splitting it into two seemed quite natural.
Yeah I mean an 18 song collection for a first album is a very bold, confident statement. It seems that you had a lot to get off your chest...
Yeah, I think that might have been difficult for some people though as it didn't really work as well as we hoped it might. I think instead of trying to do a kind of System Of A Down-style Mezmerize / Hypnotize kind of set up, it might have been a better idea to just put out a really concentrated, undiluted album.
Yeah but to be honest, I think a lot of people, if they're anything like me, just tend to listen to the whole thing straight through anyway. And I think the more jokey songs actually have some quite cutting, solemn moments in them sometimes, and vice versa with the more serious side of the album has great flashes of wit, so I think the two sides do integrate well and sort of play off one another more than might be immediately apparent.
Yeah, I agree, but it's just that you need to try and pin down those radio one listeners isn't it?
Yes I guess so, 15 year olds singing along in cars, that sort of thing. Is that something you consciously try to think about, trying to tap into a certain commercial appeal?
Well not necessarily, but of course that's what managers and people like that are going to want from you. It's hard to maintain a certain amount of credibility in that respect. I think I end up tripping myself up... It's just hard to find that balance between what you, yourself think is credible and what other people think is catchy.
I think it definitely is yes, but then, some people have very different concepts about what it means to be 'successful' don't they? Anyway, the songs on the album tend to be quite narrative, they tend to tell stories about people. Are these real people or made up characters, on the whole?
Some of them are real yeah. A lot of the 'girl' ones and a lot of the stories are based on real people. But the paedophile one isn't, luckily.
God yeah, that's a relief! Now, there's a lot of different influences on the album, from punk, to more of a hip-hop sound, right through, in the sense of the storytelling element, folk as well. Where do all of these influences come from?
Just things I grew up with really. My mom and dad just listened to all sorts of stuff and I just used to pick and choose the things I liked out of that and just used to steal the CDs that I thought were pretty good.
What kind of stuff?
Just all kinds. A lot of classical music. Some really odd Bavarian folk music I seem to remember... Bowie, Frank Zappa... just anything that caught my ear really.
Good stuff. I heard that you had a pretty interesting childhood, being born in the US and then moving over to the UK when you were quite young. Do you feel that such a significant cultural shift as that has come to influence your music in any way?
Maybe a little bit yeah. Not in a huge way, but I guess it teaches you not to be small minded about song writing, you can see things more objectively perhaps.
Yeah I guess whenever anyone moves from one country to another that whole change in cultures and shift in cultural identity in a sense is going to give you that insiders/outsiders kind of view point, you know, the ability to be objective and subjective at the same time. Am I right in saying it was the south west you grew up in?
Yeah Plymouth way. There's just loads of little villages around there.
What's the music scene like down there?
Sssshhhhiiii... well let's just say not great. It's alright but a lot of people just skip it completely I think because it's so small. I haven't heard a lot of new stuff coming out of there recently... but to be fair my favourite band comes from there, Mad Dog McRea, who are a great Irish-folky-rocky type band that I love.
I read that you were really interested in film making when you were younger, and still are actually. I feel that your songs have a very cinematic quality to them; they like to tell stories and paint pictures. Do you think that your interest in films influences the way you write songs?
Yeah, well I make lots of films and I always write all the music that accompanies them, so there's that element... I really like making short films about really ordinary things and then the music sort of paints over it, creates a certain mood. And then I make all my own music videos as well. We're doing the video for The Gay Pirates this year, which I really want to make exactly according to the lyrics of the song, make it into more of a short musical!
Jeez, so they really are interlinked then aren't they? So what kind of films did you start off making?
Oh god, just a whole load of random crap...
[Apparently not being able to let anything go] Sort of like American Beauty-esque pictures of wafting plastic bags in the wind, that sort of thing?
No! No not really, actually, maybe a bit yeah... to start off with they were completely pointless, no narrative whatsoever. I remember a good one I did called 'Justification', where basically the camera is like a policeman and you just get these people giving their version of this thing that happened, that didn't actually happen, it was fake... Ahh there was this amazing thing once where I just filmed a homeless guy who just walked into the middle of an empty car park to where this bag was, and just stopped and stared at a spot on the ground for about ten minutes, and then just lifted his head up and carried on walking again. It was all just stuff like that really.
Real opportunist stuff then?
Yeah, and you've also got to take into consideration that no one gives anyone that isn't a student permission to film anywhere!
I can imagine! Right so moving on to the second album now, how's that all coming along?
Done! Yeah completely done. I just need to re-record some stuff and we're away. To be honest there's enough written for the next few albums...
Really?! That's a hell of a lot of songs you've got tucked away then! Is the recording process going to be pretty similar to that of the first album? I mean you recorded all that in your bedroom right?
Yeah, that's just the way I work. I can't really deal with producers... well to be fair I tried to work with a producer on the first album, and we got more than half way through, nearly finished it, but he just kept trying to get me to re-do takes that I was perfectly happy with and stuff like that... so I guess we just didn't see eye to eye! And I like using just crap old instruments as well. People can spend hundreds and hundreds of pounds on new equipment and end up making an album that just sounds completely shit!
Yeah I guess if you get back to basics and just stick to the equipment you really know, including all the little faults that come along with it, you've sort of got more of a relationship with it haven't you? You're more comfortable with it.
Yeah, and I really like when you can hear the imperfections in a recording. That's what I really like about Tom Waits records, you can really hear all the stretches and strains of his voice and his instruments.
You establish more of a personal connection don't you if you can hear the faults?
[Leads to a conversation about how awful Bono is: omitted so as to avoid lawsuit, one from both the lawyers of U2 and the Vatican.]
Right, sorry about that digression! So what have you got planned for later in the year? Any more live appearances? Any festivals planned?
Ok, first up I'm going to make this next album, get that finished off, and then there's talk of possibly a few festivals yeah, but not sure about that side of things yet. To be honest though rather than festivals I think I'd just prefer to do loads of little gigs and try to reach people that way, it more intimate that way... Hopefully I'll be headlining a little tour of my own later this year, so that'll be really cool. And there's another film project in the pipeline that I'll need to rope some students in to help me out with. They'd have to work for free but maybe I could supply some booze or something?
That will definitely work, I'll tell you that for nothing!
And with that me and my friend scuttled out of the back stage area of The Academy, feeling very pleased with ourselves that we'd managed to stow away with a free bottle of water each!
Cosmo Jarvis' new single, 'Crazy, Screwed Up Lady' is available on March 22nd.